This is the payoff for the upset-challenged first weekend of the NCAA Tournament: Strong, evenly matched top seeds are meeting in the Sweet 16 and beyond. Three of Thursday's four games were humdingers. The other, UCLA's grinding win over its stylistic ancestor, Pittsburgh, paled only in comparison.
Ohio State came back from 20 points down to Tennessee, sealing an 85-84 win with center Greg Oden's flying block of Ramar Smith's would-be game-winning runner. Kansas survived a brutal defensive challenge from Southern Illinois, winning by three despite scoring only 61 points, the Jayhawks' second-lowest total of the year, their lowest in a win.
Memphis outlasted Texas A&M 65-64 in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies in San Antonio. That one came down to a blown layup by A&M star Acie Law, then some clutch free throws by Antonio Anderson, who had spent the evening missing everything he threw at the basket, including free throws.
The winners play each other Saturday for a ticket to the Final Four: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Memphis in the South, No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 UCLA in the West.
First, the other half of the Sweet 16 Friday night in the Midwest and East, where four mild upsets occurred in the second round, but no seeds lower than No. 7 UNLV in the Midwest survive. The schedule, all times EDT:
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 5 Butler, Midwest, 7:10 p.m.
No. 2 Georgetown vs. No. 6 Vanderbilt, East, 7:27 p.m.
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 UNLV, Midwest, second game
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 USC, South, second game
Unlike most years, and by most years I mean every year in the history of the universe, I didn't have to do a new preview for the Sweet 16 games because my bracket already had winners picked. I had all four of Thursday's winners, and I've got Florida, Oregon, North Carolina and Georgetown moving on Friday.
I had Maryland, Texas and Washington State as three of the opponents Friday, rather than Butler, USC and Vandy, but I don't know why you'd want to bring that up.
Last year, when upsets were rampant in the first two rounds, the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 were fantastic. That's because the upsets and fantastic finishes continued, against all odds. That's one way to do it. A more fun way, frankly. But if Thursday night's games are an indication, a by-the-numbers first weekend isn't all bad. There's something to be said for the best teams moving on and playing each other in late-round games.
Thursday night, repeatedly, that something was ... "Oh!!"
The stuff life is made of [PERMALINK]
The big controversy Thursday night involved the clock. Of course it did.
The NCAA has got to do something about this clock nonsense. The lasting image of a college basketball game these days isn't a spectacular shot or a great defensive play. It's two referees huddled over a video monitor at the scorer's table.
A rule change before last season allowed officials to parse video to reset the game clock on certain plays near the end of a half. They have not been shy about doing this. There are, naturally, occasions when such video review is helpful. If obvious mistakes can be fixed, they should be.
There are a lot more occasions when the refs are adding or subtracting one- or two-tenths of a second on a play, only because it happened in the last 10 seconds of a half. And then there are plays like Thursday night in San Antonio, when the refs looked at the replays over and over -- and then guessed.
And they're taking their sweet time about it too. Just what college basketball needs. More things other than basketball happening at the ends of games.
Here's what happened: Antonio Anderson had hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to give Memphis a 65-64 lead over Texas A&M. The Aggies' inbound pass was deflected out of bounds near midcourt by Robert Dozier. The clock didn't move.
OK, that was obviously wrong, as Memphis coach John Calipari was quick to point out, so the refs ran to the video monitor. They knew the way, if you know what I mean.
Now, if the ball had gone off Dozier's hand directly out of bounds, it would have been a matter of one- or two-tenths of a second coming off the clock. Which would it be? One- or two-tenths? These guys were supposed to figure that out by eyeballing replays? They did have a stopwatch, so it was educated guessing.
How tough would it be for the TV people to have a digital timer on the video? Independent of the game clock, just a timer on the video. They could show it to the refs and the refs could see, down to a tenth of a second, how long some event took. What's so tough about this?
After six replays, most in slow motion, which isn't too helpful if you're trying to figure out how much time went by and there isn't a timer on the video -- hey, there's an idea -- the refs set the clock at 2.0 seconds remaining.
Flabbergasting as this was to CBS announcers Vern Lundquist and Bill Raftery, who thought either 0.1 or 0.2 seconds should have come off the clock, not 1.1 seconds, it was the right call. The ball hit Dozier's hand, bounced inbounds, then flew over Calipari's shoulder and only then touched something out of bounds.
Nobody can know if 1.1 or 1.2 or 0.9 or whatever went off the clock without a digital timer, which, hey, that'd be a cool idea if they had one. But just eyeballing it, it was clearly about a second.
So the refs got it approximately right this time. Good. Why it took so long, who knows? Even Raftery, who has never to my knowledge complained about too many stoppages in play, criticized them for taking so much time.
And when there's a clear error, as there was here, with the clock not starting at all, it's good that the zebras can fix it. But the parsing has reached ridiculous levels.
The refs rush over to the video monitor any time they blow their whistles in the last five seconds of a half. Just one example out of many from the Tournament, from A&M's second-round win over Louisville: At the end of the first half, the refs rushed over to see if time should have expired when the ball went out of bounds. They put 0.5 seconds back on the clock.
Thirty seconds earlier, they wouldn't have bothered, even though the game clock is showing tenths of seconds at that point. Officials never go to the monitor to see if a ball went out of bounds at 32.4 or 32.8 or 33.7 seconds. It's like the 10-yard measurement in football. A first down is precisely -- precisely! -- 10 yards, exactly, from a random spot that the linesman eyeballed after the last first down.
If that kind of tenths-of-a-second precision isn't important enough to interrupt the game with 30 seconds left, it's not important enough to interrupt the game with one second left. Fix obvious mistakes. Otherwise: Play basketball.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
We need more replay angles [PERMALINK]
It's worth noting from time to time what a great job CBS does with the Tournament. CBS avoids almost all of the things I and legions of others complain about when other networks broadcast big events.
There's very little pageantry, very little flash. CBS does the craziest thing: It points the camera at the ball, from a mid-court angle that gives viewers the best view of the game. There are almost no artistic angles. We are rarely forced to look at some cheering yutz in the stands when the game is going on. CBS has even cut down on the one artistic angle it used to employ, the switch to the under-the-basket camera -- also known as the can't-see-what-happens-cam -- on fast breaks.
And in between games or at halftime, it presents a studio show in which Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis do the nuttiest thing: They talk about the basketball games. There are almost no features about players overcoming family crises or health problems, no polls, no contests involving the alleged musical skills of players. Just a few minutes of analysis, here's the schedule, and let's get you out to the game.
Having said that, there are one or two areas where CBS could spice things up a bit, and replays are one of them. The replay of that inbounds pass at the end of the Memphis-Texas A&M game was an example. CBS showed the play six times -- all from the same angle.
As it happened, that angle was sufficient. It showed the ball bouncing inbounds before it went out of bounds. But there have been plenty of other plays in this Tournament when the one angle CBS has shown has not been sufficient to answer the question at hand. Yet the network has doggedly shown the same replay, over and over.
At the end of the Maryland-Butler game in the second round, for example, Butler knocked the ball away as Maryland tried to race upcourt for a game-tying shot. There was a question, of course, about when the ball hit out of bounds. The regular mid-court camera angle didn't answer that question because the ball went out of bounds on the near side, out of sight.
CBS showed the same replay five times. Doesn't it have more than one camera at a time focused on the ball?
Get with it, CBS. We viewers are spoiled by other networks that tote 50 cameras to every game. We get awesome replays, which we pay for by having to suffer through endless artistic camera angles because, doggone it, they brought all those cameras, they're gonna use 'em. Spoil us some more by bringing those cameras and using them correctly, for effective replays.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
A replay peeve [PERMALINK]
And here's a pet peeve of mine, just because you asked: Why don't announcers watch the replays?
This happens all the time, but let's go back to the inbounds play at the end of Memphis-Texas A&M. If it wasn't obvious in real time that the ball had bounced inbounds after Dozier deflected it, it was certainly clear on any of the six replays that followed.
Yet Lundquist and Raftery -- who are a fine team, by the way -- convinced themselves that only 0.1 or 0.2 seconds should have come off the clock. When the referees announced that 1.1 seconds would come off, leaving 2.0, they were shocked.
"Two-oh?" Lundquist kept repeating. "Ooh, that was a bang-banger," Raftery said.
"Bill, how do you find 1.1 seconds to take off the clock?" Lundquist asked.
"I agree with you wholeheartedly," Raftery said.
"YOU LOOK AT THE FREAKIN' REPLAY!" America screamed at its TV sets.
After the game ended the broadcast eventually went back to the studio show, and Seth Davis hadn't watched the replays either. "Somehow the referees looked at that replay and came up with 2.0 seconds," he said. "I mean, Texas A&M is still in a very difficult position, needing to score in that situation, Greg, but it befuddles me how the referee can look at that replay as often as he did and take off 1.1 seconds."
Greg Gumbel had done the most insane thing. He'd looked at the replay.
"As we watched it," he said, "I think the difference is that the ball bounced on the court before it went out of bounds, and that might have been the reason."
Thank you, Greg Gumbel. Thank you for looking at the freakin' replay.
- - - - - - - - - - - -